Scent expert and carer Linda Harman explains that the conversations and experiences you have with a loved one with dementia may seem repetitive to you, but to them they can represent real Moments of Joy, and should be welcomed and encouraged
I have noticed something about my visits to my mother. Unlike most other visitors, I may start off sitting over a cup of coffee with my own mother, but we are quickly joined by a number of other ladies to natter about the doings-of-the-day or discuss whatever prompts I have brought with me to stimulate conversation. Mine is a shared visit, not an exclusive one. As I have mentioned before, my mother has totally lost the ability to speak so our communication has to be non-verbal, or driven by my own monologue – so presence of others is welcomed.
Last week, as I walked into the two-storey building, I heard an urgent knocking at a window and looked up to see one of the residents waving enthusiastically from the floor above. It made me smile. When I reached the first floor she welcomed me warmly – which made me feel as good as my being there clearly made her.
As dementia progresses many people find it hard to engage meaningfully with their relatives and often feel uncertain that there is much point to visiting at all. Dementia can remove most of the social cues that tell us that our presence is valued. It is vital to hold on to the fact that we can create Moments of Joy for people with dementia. Try to understand the world from their point of view and help them to keep hold of the memories that create their own sense of value.
No matter how often a story is repeated, believe that telling it makes a Moment of Joy for that person. The joy comes from remembering a happy occasion or a time when that person was full of vitality. One man that I know used to run a business. He tells me about it every time he sees me. It was a haulage business and he tells me how he built it up from two lorries to 240. The story defines him and reminds him that he is a successful businessman, not an old man in a care home.
Another lady used to nurse premature babies. We discuss the care practices of the residential home when I visit. She berates “modern nursing” every time but my listening gives her a Moment of Joy. My mother likes to look at photographs of herself as a pretty young woman and mother. We (I) tell everyone about how she travelled with my soldier father and loved to party. She still loves to dance.
It’s exciting that, by remembering the stories people tell us, we can help them to hold on to their identities and, through that, their self-worth. Photographs, music and smells connect with memories and feelings from the past. Use them to forge connection with the person you are caring for and use them repeatedly. What you may see as a monotonous activity, or a boring, repeated conversation, is bringing them a Moment of Joy of which they will never tire. That is the advantage of dementia!